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Human Origins Sumatra Volcanic Eruption

Humans Did Not Live in Asia Before Sumatra Volcanic Eruption 74,000 Years Ago

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A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has refuted a recent theory that modern humans lived in Asia prior to the great volcanic eruption in Sumatra 74,000 years ago.

The volcanic eruption was the largest eruption to have taken place in the last 2 million years, covering India, Pakistan and the Gulf region in a blanket of ash up to 5 metres deep and causing a prolonged world-wide nuclear winter and wiping out any life in its path. It is the most accurately dated, dramatic event to have taken place before the last ice age and it is therefore extremely useful to archaeologists as a time datum for the whole of southern Asia.

Back in 2007, a team of archaeologists in India believed they had found evidence that modern humans were there prior to the eruption and as early as 120,000 years ago. This was based primarily on the discovery of stone tools below a layer of ash.

However, Professor Martin Richards, Head of the Archaeogenetics Research Group at the University of Huddersfield, along with colleagues from the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, conducted research in which they examined mitochondrial DNA evidence from India which had been previously unavailable.  By using the mitochondrial DNA of today’s populations and working backwards, as well as drawing upon other evidence, the team was able to make much more exact estimates for the arrival of modern humans in India.

The results of the study indicate that modern humans dispersed from Africa and settled in India no earlier than 60,000 years ago – after the volcanic eruption.  "We also argue that close archaeological similarities between African and Indian stone-tool technologies after 70,000 years ago, as well as features such as beads and engravings, suggest that the slightly later Indian material had an African source," states Professor Richards, who went on to clarify that the stone tools could well have belonged to Neanderthals and not modern humans.

By April Holloway

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